PROGRESS REPORT: Anthony Gonzalez talks touring, music biz, and recording his excellent new LP, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.
Anthony Gonzalez — aka French pop enthusiast M83 — has always had a penchant for crafting things that were both dreamy and vaguely teen-agery. On his new record, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, Gonzalez’ ambition finally caught up to musical fantasies, resulting in a double album overdose of synthesizers and oversized angst. In person, Gonzalez isn’t particularly angsty at all, but he is more than happy to discuss why teen dreams should never die.
STEREOGUM: Do you live in Paris?
GONZALEZ: No. I live in L.A.
STEREOGUM: Really? I just assumed you still lived in Paris.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, I’ve been in L.A. for a year and a half. It’s cool. It’s different.
STEREOGUM: I’m actually from Oklahoma. So the middle, but I’ve spent some time in LA. I like to visit there. I don’t know what it would be like for me to live there.
GONZALEZ: It’s fun. It’s cool. Everything is so spread out. You have to drive places.
STEREOGUM: I guess it’s been awhile since you got a record out. You toured the last record pretty intensely?
GONZALEZ: We toured for like one year and a half. But also we played a lot of support shows for other bands. It’s not like touring touring. Opening for these really huge bands is really hard. People don’t want to hear your shitty music. They’re just sitting there or trying to find their seat and don’t really want to be hearing you.
STEREOGUM: What was the process for this record? Did it take a long time to make?
GONZALEZ: It took a long time to make, well first of all because it’s a double, so it’s quite long. But also because I wanted to take my time to do it. I wanted to do it proper. I just wanted to be proud of it. It’s not that I didn’t do that with the other albums, but for this one I just wanted to take my time. So, it’s a long process especially because I had tons of songs, so we had to cut a lot of them to fit the album. It was such a great experience. I worked with like new people and very interesting artists. It was definitely one of the best experiences with recording I’ve had in my entire life.
STEREOGUM: Do you have your own place to record?
GONZALEZ: I have my own studio which is really good for synthesizers. I have all my keyboards there so I don’t need to go to other places to record that, but drums and guitars … I do vocals but otherwise we need to go to a proper recording studio for everything else.
STEREOGUM: Was everything done in L.A.?
GONZALEZ: Yeah. Everything. I mean it’s a perfect city to record in. Just everything you need, anything you need there. All the big musicians and producers and good studios. Justin, my producer on this album, is from LA and he really knows everyone there.
STEREOGUM: What studios did you work in?
GONZALEZ: So, we worked at my studio and then Justin’s studio for bass, and guitars. Then we went to Sunset Studios for drums, bass, strings, and brass, and then we went and mixed it at Sound Factory.
STEREOGUM: All together how long did the recording process take? Did you do it in bits and pieces?
GONZALEZ: We recorded all the drums and bass and strings in March. Then we took another month to do all the sequencing and editing. Then we did the mixing in May.
STEREOGUM: Do you demo everything alone beforehand?
GONZALEZ: Yeah. I demo everything and then I demo everything again with Justin, my producer. We demo the drums, bass and guitars, and then we re-record everything, which is a pain the ass, but sometimes we just keep the guitars from the demo because it sounds better. Sometimes you want to recreate something that is impossible to recreate. Something happens when you are in the demo stage and it sounds way better.
STEREOGUM: Did you know pretty early on that it was going to be a double album?
GONZALEZ: Yeah. I always dreamed of releasing a double album. I discovered music at a time when a double album wasn’t that crazy. When I was a kid listening to a double album, there were so many things to get into. You just wanted to dig into it. I just wanted to do something like that, create an object that you can be inspired by. I think it was the time for me to do it honestly. I wanted to do it. It was the right time. I felt I could make a double.
STEREOGUM: It must be cool to do a really awesome double vinyl with a beautiful gatefold sleeve. If you are a record nerd, it’s almost worth it just so you can do that.
GONZALEZ: I’m excited for the vinyl. I mean, I’m excited for the cd. I’m not excited to release a double album on iTunes. It just doesn’t make sense. Honestly, for this album, I’m going to push people to buy the CD or the vinyl, but I know it’s hard nowadays. I’m old school, you know? I’m really nostalgic about the time when you would go to the record store, and you had been waiting for a record for such a long time. You just go to the stores and dig into it and you go to your apartment and listen to it. I miss that time. This is a way for me to say to people, “Well, this is an old school album, not a modern album.” I’m not saying that the modern way is bad. It’s different.
STEREOGUM: It’s totally changed the psychology of how people listen to music.
GONZALEZ: Exactly. There’s so much stuff going out every week, every day. It’s like I’m getting lost. It’s like a big jungle. Which is good, because the music gets very accessible and it’s kind of good in a way, but I don’t know … It’s kind of scary for an artist to release an album to release an album the same day as five other fantastic albums. How do you want to compete with that?
STEREOGUM: I think it’s interesting, people talking about the music industry as sort of collapsing on itself. In a lot of ways, it’s created a different playing field for people where you see lots of bands … but no one is getting record labels to spend a gazillion dollars on their records. It forces everyone to be more creative about how they market themselves, how they make videos…It’s interesting you mention nostalgia … Nostalgia — depending how you deal with it — can be a good thing or a bad thing.
GONZALEZ: I know. I’ve always been melancholic and nostalgic about the past. I don’t know why because I feel like people probably think that by listening to my music that I’m a really sad person, but I’m not. I’m really happy. I’m just very nostalgic. It doesn’t mean I’m very said. It’s just different. I had so many good times when I was a kid listening to music, that I just want recreate that. Even if it’s more difficult nowadays, I’m just trying to do something like that.
STEREOGUM: I was talking to a friend who’s a filmmaker who’s making a film about teenagers and he was saying he had come to terms with the fact that he’s always going to be interested in the mindset of teenagers. Not that he thought of himself as a teenager, but he was interested in the frame of mind you have when you are that age … the way things look to you and the way things feel, and he’s like, “I’m always going to be obsessed with it.” It’s kind of embarrassing sometimes because people are like, “Oh, I’m getting old. I need to stop talking about teen angst.” But, there’s something about that that’s so universal to people. No matter how old you are, you can always connect to that feeling.
GONZALEZ: Well, teenagers, what I like about them is that they get excited for tons of things. That’s what I was like when I was a teenager. I was crazy for new experience, new music, and new movies. I was asking for more all the time. You lose that as you’re getting older, the innocence.
STEREOGUM: There’s an intensity of feeling too. You love things intensely. You hate things intensely. I think as you get older it gets sort of leveled out. I mean people must talk a lot about the cinematic nature of the music you make a lot. Particularly, I think it’s so interesting that you use dialogue in your songs. There are things that are spoken. Where does the interest in that come from?
GONZALEZ: Well, I don’t know, I always listened to soundtracks a lot and I watch tons of movies and I was always inspired by movies and I’m doing this on every one of my albums.
STEREOGUM: So this is like a trademark. It’s really cool.
GONZALEZ: Yeah. It’s cool. I want to avoid doing that all the time. I think on a double album, if you have four or five tracks with a text, it’s not like I’m settling like a movie.
STEREOGUM: How do you come about doing it? Do you see what it evokes and then try out different snippets and see what feels the best?
GONZALEZ: Yeah, my brother is a filmmaker so that helps so we write all the dialogues and monologues together. I don’t know … I just like to recreate this cinematic kind of feeling and I think it works well with my music too. It has been done before me and it’s not new. It’s just that it’s something that is part of my sound. I can’t really help it. I just have to do it.
STEREOGUM: I love it. I think it’s cool listening to this record all the way through. Especially it being a double album, it does really provide you with a very cinematic ark to the whole thing. How is it for you … I mean I’ve seen you play live a bunch of times … probably some of the first times you have played in New York very early on. So it’s interesting to see how the show got bigger and how the sound got bigger. I remember seeing you play very early on and then not seeing you play for a very long time. Then I saw you at Coachella.
GONZALEZ: I think that was in ’05? It was a long time ago.
STEREOGUM: I could see how it expanded to fill that space. Do you find it particularly challenging figuring out how to translate the music into a live setting?
GONZALEZ: It is. It’s always challenging to play live. Especially for this kind of music where it’s just layers and layers of tracks put together. So the album sound is never going to work. You have to find a different way to do it. It’s just different. I just want to put forth something different to people. That’s my main idea of playing live. You can just forget about every song and just play the hits, the bigger songs, and the more dancey ones. You know, you just want to please the crowd and the audience. With this one, I’m really excited about it. We’re going to have a proper light show, which we never had before. I feel like people are expecting this. We want the audience to have a proper visual experience when they come to our live shows. We’re gonna have more musicians onstage so less sequences. I’m so excited. We just have so much work to do. I’m really stressed out. It’s been almost three years since I’ve been on the road, so I’m just excited to reconnect with my fans and play this new album live.
STEREOGUM: Is touring generally fun for you? I know the process of touring can be not fun, like the logistics of it.
GONZALEZ: You know, I used to hate touring. But the more I do it, the more I am liking it. I don’t know, I feel alive when I’m touring. You meet different people every night, different crowd, different atmospheres, different cities … It’s just very inspiring. I can’t wait to go back to touring. Of course it’s tiring and exhausting but it’s so rewarding in the meantime, so you don’t have the right to complain.
STEREOGUM: That’s a good way to think about it. I mean you worked with a lot of interesting people. Zola Jesus is on the record.
GONZALEZ: This is like the way I’m working with people even though on the previous albums it’s always like natural and sincere. I’m not going to just ask people to work with me. Every time I ask people, they are coming to me very sincerely like, “You know, I love your music and if you need someone I’m here.” I like that. I’m not looking for the new trendy producer. None of that matters with me. So that was the case with Zola, Justin, Morgan, all these people. You fall in love with the person and the objects and then you work with them.
STEREOGUM: In the past you’ve done a lot of interesting remix work on people’s songs. Do you get hit up to do that sort of work a lot by people who like your production?
GONZALEZ: Yes. I had a lot of remix offers. I’ve been busy working on the album and I’m going to be busy working on the life show, so I’m not going to do remixes for awhile I think. Producing a band, I would love to do that. I haven’t really had the time. I’ve had some offers. Now, I think, would be a good time for me to try that. It’s a different way of working. You’re not working for yourself. You’re working for someone else, but for yourself as well. It’s very interesting.
STEREOGUM: it’s a fascinating role that producers play when working with a band.
GONZALEZ: Yeah, exactly. If it’s the right project or the right band, I would be more than happy to try it. It definitely would be very interesting.
STEREOGUM: Now that the record done, you’ve had a little bit of distance from it. Does it change when you look back on it now what the record is about? Do you have a better sense of where these songs were coming from?
GONZALEZ: It’s hard when you’re working on a project for so long and then you finally hear it mastered. You’ll listen to it and it’s hard to be objective. It’s almost impossible. But in the mean time, you just realize what you’ve just done, and on this album, when I heard it for the first time finished, I just smoked a big joint and listened to it on my headphones, and I had this feeling of pride. Of course, I could have done things better, but in the end you have to just let it go. Otherwise you would never release an album. Honestly, I’m so proud of it. I think this is my best work so far and I can’t wait to give it to people. It’s like a baby. You just have to say, “Now it’s your first day of school and good luck. I’ll see you tonight.” It’s just so exciting and stressful.
STEREOGUM: So much of this album is about dreaming — both literally and figuratively.
GONZALEZ: Well that is one of the main themes of this album. It’s about dreams. All people dream differently. It’s a double album so we tried to make it very coherent and very eclectic. It’s hard when you work on such a long album, to not repeat yourself. We really tried to make something very eclectic so people can get very into it. It’s a challenge. It’s hard. I’m not saying that we did it, but we tried at least. I started to to work on this album when I moved to LA a year and a half ago. I was feeling lonely and working on this album reminded me of being a kid. I was very nostalgic about being a kid and this is what this album is about, about being a kid and dreaming. It’s trippy and even if there are pop songs about more grownup themes, it’s mainly about being a kid.
STEREOGUM: The music is very evocative of childhood. You always manage to create sounds that are somehow both retro and futuristic at the same time.
GONZALEZ: The aim and the goal of this album … I couldn’t care less about doing something modern. I just wanted to have something timeless, something you can look back on in ten or fifteen years and still say it’s listenable. That was the case on the previous albums but especially on this one. We just wanted to do something timeless and not modern. I don’t care about modern music. It doesn’t mean anything to me. So that was the goal.
Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is out now on Mute.